By Fred Wilson
[ See also Clouds ]
Everybody has their favorite air
and site. Mine are mostly around Vernon
Mountain in Beautiful British
Columbia's Okanagan Valley because so many of my most memorable
flights occurred there, especially the old west launch "The Chute" (now
Mountain is an outrageously good High Flight hill that can
provide major league fun ridge mixed in with thermal soaring for intermediates
and advanced. Straight ridge days are near ideal to introduce Novices to
One of my favorite memories was
a days soaring at Vernon Mt. I scrached for quite some time in front
of launch before getting away. While doing so, one "bored out of his skull"
Redtail got a brainstorm of an idea to liven up his day. He slid right
up behind be and cruised back and forth behind my trailing edge, giving
me the complete once over. A real eye-ball to eye-ball conversation. "Cool"
I thought, then regretfully watched him slip away. So my concentration
meandered back onto the gorgious scenery... only to learn a big, big, lesson
from one of the masters in the sky. "Don't take anything for granted Succa!"
There I be, caught virtually asleep
at the wheel by this little putzbahh who sized me and lined me up and set
me up big time. The little rat came at me at warp drive speed, right up
the old kazoo, came screaming in right through my harness straps
with his wings folded up, wrapped tight around him, just inches over my
head. Then at 50 MPH and 5 feet in front of me, he spun around backwards,
fully opened his wings in a full blown ass backwards stall, stared me straight
in the face and gave me his loudest ""SCREEE!" He then flipped over
and did the most amazing aerobtic dance I have ever seen. Celebrating one
less living homo sapien, stuck halfway between whooping and celebrating
and having a near fatal heart attack!
But my day wiht bird humor was not
I worked it down to Lavington (halfway
to Lumby) when two monster big Golden Eagles came up at me in full on hunt
mode, or so I thought, it being nesting season.. A wickedly fast climb
of a good couple of thousand feet. "No escape from these living missiles"
I thought. I know what it feels like to be an Iraqie fighter pilot with
a Tomahawk missile locked on. (-; "Just be non-threatening and calmly
exit their turf - old boy. They'll get the message."
Uh Uh. They all up and had a phone
call from my redtail fiend / friend. Of that I have no doubt.
You see, one of those eagles swung
out about 300 feet in front of me and a hundred feet above, slowly lining
me up dead in his sights. Turned his head an turfed the biggest gob of
spit you ever saw straight at me. "What th' ell is this BS?????"
I yelled, winging over to safety....
Oh gawd... the damn thing's lining
me up in his sights again! Sure enough he sidled right into target practice
position and there I am again, half upside down in escape mode.
And again I get a world class demonstration
of aerobatics as the two of them went to outrageous lenghts to celebrate
my misery! So if you are flying between Lumby and Vernon, take a
few minutes and hang out above the Lavington Bowl. My friends still roost
there. Maybe they'll come up and say hi to you too. Enjoy!
But I digress...
Back to the old west launch "The
Chute" and my story there.
There had been some real scares
there, before a forest fire opened it up, notably Bill Relkov getting rotored
to destruction by the trees (I exaggerate) and the primary bomb out LZ
is diabolical. So it was with some trepidation that we once again reapproached
flying at the site.
We had become complacent with High
Flight hills which were developed during the old sled ride days and
failed to recognize they weren’t soarable in most conditions. So we were
slow to catch on to the fact that we had a truly extraordinary flying site
right on our doorsteps.
Vernon pilots are blessed with a
succession of tremendous flying sites, and all of them really close to
home. Sies like Coopers
in Lumby just crank in the spring. Mara and Kobau turn on June to Sept,
while Bolleen can beat the stress
out you when summer stability rolls around...
and all the airtime you have piled
up means easy sites no longer test you ...and anyplace that is on will
do in the fall.
But the best thing of all is the
fact the Chute, Kobau and Mara can turn on in early spring - March (but
the Chute ends about mid June when the center of the Okanagan Valley stabilizes
out for the summer.) Why is this best? For two reasons.
- The hawks and eagles migrate
through in droves and it is an event to be up there with them.
- And as every pilot knows, by
early spring your nerves are screaming for one, just one, (be nice to me!)
because I really need a fix THERMAL!
And this one has some good ones at
that time of year when it can be really difficult to get in to snow bound
We began to fly the Chute in earnest
in 1978 when for the first time the entire sport was trying to swallow
their fears and really try to stay in those thermal things. (I still vividly
recall Marshall Antonisak doing S turns way out in front of Vernon Mt.
S launch in '76. The first thermal I had ever seen or heard of. The rest
of us were fearfull for his safety. We could
NOT figure out what
was happening to him! Some of us couldn't even watch!)
For the first time we began to realize
that momentous memories were happening; and thus our log books began to
evolve from simple notations like "Smooth-soared" into detailed stories
we could reminisce about for years to come.
But... This tale is really about
scratching, although it is really only a very small part.
It begins for me in '79 where like
many others I had gone for a flying holiday to one of our most treasured
flying valleys, the Kooteneys. Home of the Awesome Mt
7 at Golden. I needed guidance and initiation into thermalling
and for me Andrew Barber Starkey was the answer. I was lucky. My first
thermal was 500' per minute and a quarter mile in diameter. By the time
I flew into the core my death grip had relaxed a little, so when my vario
went screaming to 1200 up I said "OH! That's a core!" So I turned!
And spent my day at cloud base in a snowstorm.
But way, and I do mean way
down below me was Robin Peterson. He spent the day 500' above the deck
pickin pine cones on a day when it was easy, really easy to get
up. When I landed tired and happy I watched him for another hour. What
a site. Burned into my memory for life.
... and he has the credit for opening
up a whole new facet in my flying life. That is:
We do not have to get high to
There is one heck of an exhillerating
alternative... That is:
You can fly in "Zero Air" until
they have to fly the pine box up you'll beburieed in.
Air does not have to be going
You just have to be in Air that
is not going down.
Robin has since become famous for
his scratchin'. And I have come to learn that it is by far and away
my favorite form of flight.
Part 2 The Chute.
It was spring and I was really
Conditions were warm and sunny and
just a little too north of west to be straight in. Miles Mopkins, Louis
Kuyper and a few others stopped in for coffee and we did the usual. Pulled
out the lawn chairs, put the feet up and waited for the cu's to start popping.
At 1:00 sharp it was action time and within 10 minutes we were setting
up. Luv Livin in OK Land! Milo as always scrambled off first, turned right
to avoid the fools lift in front of the road, slipped over to the ravine
and quickly climbed back out of site. In fact he flew to Cooper's Ridge
(Lumby Town has officially renamed it "Thermal Rise" ) and back
twice that day. The rest of us were not quite so lucky. While good ones
ripped by the nature of the launch demands straight up streamers on all
sides so it was catch as can.
I gave launch my best shot (you have
to) and quickly caught the house in the ravine. But it was rough. Usually
it quickly broadens out into smooth lift but not today. Peter Elms ground
it into me to thermal Hang Gliders by flying one hand on the base tube
and the one on the inside down tube and everything will come together.
It helped a lot but this was still not my day. I was working hard when
off in the distance over Deep Lake launch and Kalamalka Lake two pairs
of Redtails began the long traverse and quickly converged on me and my
After one near midair (followed by
a severe scolding), one of the Redtails, exasperated by my technique bailed
out and dropped below me, leveled out and flew through the trash to the
core and then quickly climbed out — screaming at me every time she caught
my eye; very obviously in a better track. She (must have been a female:
only a mother would take a fledgling like this under her wing) repeated
this procedure over and over until I caught on. All the while the other
three were desperatley dodging around my wing tips. When she was finally
satisfied with my techinque, she gave me one final, leasurely fly-by, then
joined her fruebds and off they left, back on their migratory way - leaving
me to my own devices and a particularly wonderful memory of that moment...
and a whole lot wiser.
I bounced up and down 4 grand all
day but as the day wound down, so did I until I was just below our SW launch
"Lover's Leap" when one faint thermal drifted up to me. And so, while two
spectators watched, I slowly eased my way up. It was so calm and quiet
we could converse as I worked the slope until I dropped away agin and again.
I caught another one beneath the little ridge below them and it was so
smooth and I was so confident of the air I turned in that little thermal
- right around the lower branches of the only tree in that grassy little
slope (the memory of the trunk of that tree spinning below me is still
fresh in my mind as the day it happened) and then climbed to just above
them. It was indescribably lush air. They were awed.
I dropped away again and this time
slid right over to the power line where I caught my last "thermal" of the
day. It was 50' per minute at best and barely enough to start a turn in.
I pushed it out and held it there Oh so steady and used that
little bubble to traverse the hill. It took me 20 minutes and I climbed
not a whit. It slipped away and I teased some broken bits of glass off
until I made my exit turn. I could have landed on that little bench. I
was so low my hands were running through the tussles of grass 'till I turned
and rolled out to land.
I do not think I shall ever again
have such an all encompassing feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment as
I did that day. It is a personal highlight that will remain as fresh in
my memory as that day for the rest of my life. And I keep flying in hopes
Canada offers many flying escapes
for the adventurous pilot. From the year round flying on Vancouver
Island to the Easter Meet near Kamloops
through Spring at the West Coast
to the September Labor Day Cache Creek/Clinton Team Meet nearly every weekend
offers some sort of organized activity. For further information about flying
and events in Canada, contact the
Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada.
Come and see what you've been missing
"Come To The World Next Door!"
Beautiful British Columbia Canada